The Risks and Benefits of Alcohol


People have been drinking fermented beverages for at least 10,000 years. We’ve been arguing the pros and cons of Alcohol for almost as long. Alcohol brings happiness and sadness, health and disease. How does one find a proper balance?

One may cut out alcohol all together, but it appears that moderate consumption is actually beneficial to the heart and circulatory system. Statistics indicate that it may protect a person from type 2 diabetes and gall stones as well.

Heavy drinking is a main cause of death worldwide. It is a factor in half of all fatal traffic accidents in the US. Hard drinking can damage the liver and heart, the unborn child, and increase the likelihood of some cancers, particularly breast cancer.

It can also lead to violence, depression, and interfere with relationships.

What does alcohol do to the body?

Alcohol – or more specifically, ethanol – is a small breakdown product of sugar metabolism. Our livers can process it in biologically normal amounts. It exerts a direct effect on the stomach, brain, heart, gallbladder, and liver. It also influences levels of lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), insulin, and affects inflammation and coagulation.

It appears that moderate drinking is not harmful, and may even be beneficial, but what constitutes “moderate” alcohol intake? In some studies that is defined by fewer than one drink a day. In others, it may be up to three or four drinks a day. The current consensus is two drinks a day for men and one for women, but there is little solid research to justify that.

What does alcohol do to the brain?

Your mood, concentration, and coordination are also subject to alcohol’s influence. Your genetic makeup appears to play an important role as well. The various forms of liver enzymes – which are genetically determined – make some people more resistant to the bad effects of alcohol and other more vulnerable. Asians and native Americans tend to metabolize alcohol poorly while Europeans do better.

Alcohol can be addictive for some people. Treatment centers like The Recovery Village are filled with alcoholics trying to kick the habit alongside heroin and cocaine addicts.

Does the form of alcohol matter?

The French have low rates of heart disease despite a high consumption of butter and cheese. Some experts have suggested that wine consumption, especially red wine, may be responsible. Other research suggests that red wine has little effect on cardiovascular health.

One thing that does seem to matter is biologically balanced forms versus concentrated drinks. Wine and beer are made by natural processes and the alcohol content is limited by naturally occurring sugars and living yeast. Vodka and whiskey require distillation and can be used as antiseptics because they kill living cells.

It stands to reason that consumption of highly concentrated drinks that can kill cells would be more dangerous than fermented drinks that our bodies have learned to manage in naturally occurring concentrations.

A beer or two with the guys after work isn’t going to kill you.